A year after losing her gallery, West Ashley arts champion and West Of Free Press contributor Susan Irish debuts personal solo show

by Lorne Chambers | Editor

It’s been a tumultuous year for Susan Irish. The former public school teacher and tireless supporter of the local art scene has been at the forefront of West Ashley’s nascent art scene since first opening Fabulon, A Center for Art and Education in 2015. However, in December of last year Irish received a registered letter stating that her leased space along Wappoo Road had sold and she had 30 days to vacate the property.

Three years of hard work and a lifelong endeavor came crashing down in an instance. To make matters worse, Irish had 30 days to sort, purge, and dismantle her dreams at the very time Charleston was getting walloped by a historic snow and ice storm. 

“We were granted a brief extension but Fabulon, A Center for Art and Education, would close. With each box packed, I felt the stripping away of my dream and my identity,” says Irish. “Despite our best efforts, things were misplaced and haphazardly stuffed into any available container. So much of what I had collected was unidentifiable and irrelevant.”

And the hits kept on coming. “One of the artists that I represented died suddenly. He was a friend a colleague and someone I was trying to encourage his artist future,” says Irish.

Amidst the darkness Irish says she found solace not in the studio, but in the garden of her West Ashley home. “It was difficult to move, let alone paint in a studio so crammed with boxes,” she says. “I felt sequestered at home. I felt that I was in exile in a lot of ways and I felt guilty taking the time for myself to paint. Because I should be looking for a building, I should be solving problems, I should be catering to the artists that I am obligated to help.

Irish did eventually do the one thing she’s always done — teach. She slowly sorted out some spaces for students and got back to helping aspiring artists.  “How can I spend any time on myself when people were counting on me?” she asked herself.

Irish says she also become her own student. “I listened to the genuine messages of reassurance, validation, and encouragement I weave into lessons with my emerging artists. I made space for me and time to paint,” she says. “I tell my students you have to do work, you have to practice, and be kind to yourself. It’s hard to be kind to yourself.”

Once Irish picked up the paintbrush again, things began to flow again. Over the next several months, Irish painted dozens of pieces. Consisting of 32 of those paintings from the last year are now part of a new solo exhibit that will be on display through the end of January at the gallery in Avondale Therapy, located along Savannah Highway in the Avondale Business District.

The exhibit is entitled Sotto Voce, which means “quiet voice” in Italian. Irish says the title of these collections of paintings is a celebration of her own voice returning.

“When Fabulon closed it felt like I got kicked in the head. Even though it was out of my control, I felt like a failure. But there’s some hope that things can start again,” says Irish. “This feels like a new chapter. It’s not a moving on from Fabulon. For me it’s still a living breathing entity. It just might not be a building anymore … I’m not ruling that out, just not right now.”

There will be an artist’s reception on Saturday, Dec 1, 5-8 p.m. for Susan Irish’s solo exhibit Sotto Voce which is currently on display at the gallery at Avondale Therapy, located at 815 Savannah Hwy. #101.

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